Managing polycystic ovary syndrome takes commitment, but it's often worth the effort. Lifestyle modifications combined with prescription medications go a long way to not only improve symptoms of the condition but also reduce your chances of many of the complications associated with PCOS, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. One of the more beneficial changes to your lifestyle is diet, especially when the diet is low in simple carbohydrates. You might see additional improvements by including whey protein in your diet.
A study published in the March 2007 "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that whey protein had a significant effect on hormone irregularities often seen with polycystic ovary syndrome. After ingesting 75 grams of whey protein isolate, the participants experienced acute hormonal responses in insulin, cortisol, ghrelin, dehydroepiandrosterone and androstenedione. The improvements in each of these hormones suggest whey protein could be of benefit in treating PCOS.
Many women with PCOS are resistant to the effects of insulin, which is linked at least partly to elevated cortisol levels. If your body is unable to use insulin properly, it tends to increase the amount of this hormone in your blood. The excess insulin can cause the ovaries to produce more androgens, or male sex hormones, than in the average female. This leads to a hormonal imbalance that results in many of the symptoms associated with PCOS, such as weight gain, excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility issues. If whey protein can lower serum cortisol, as it did in the 2007 AJCN study, including it in your diet could help improve the symptoms of PCOS.
In the study participants, whey protein also suppressed ghrelin — a hormone that increases hunger — much longer than glucose, helping prolong satiety. This could help with the nutritional management of PCOS, in that you won't be as hungry as you might be when eating carbohydrates, for example. In turn, you lower your caloric intake, which can help you lose weight. Weight loss, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, can normalize hormone levels, including insulin and androgens, which can improve symptoms of the condition.
Adding whey protein to your diet isn't likely to affect PCOS as much as changing your overall eating habits. Cut out processed foods and those with added sugar. Remaining active can lower your blood sugar levels and help you maintain a healthy weight.
As you improve your lifestyle, discuss any concerns about symptoms with your doctor. Depending on the symptom, she can prescribe a medication to normalize menstruation, encourage ovulation, reduce facial hair growth or improve acne.